On February 7, 2020, 41-year-old Juston Root died after law enforcement officers fired more than 30 shots at him, allegedly after he was already injured, bloody, and lying on the ground. As a result, members of his surviving family have filed a wrongful death against the police department.
The wrongful death lawsuit alleges that Root had a serious psychological disorder, including bipolar and schizoaffective disorders. It alleges that he posed no actual threat to law enforcement officers when they shot him dozens of times from a short range of only a few feet away.
The Police Shooting Happened After a Car Chase
The confrontation that resulted in Root’s death started after police received a report that a man with a gun was threatening security. A law enforcement officer approached the man, pulling his gun. Root pulled out an unloaded paintball gun. When he did, two offers filed multiple shots at him. One of the officers also unintentionally shot a nearby pedestrian.
After officers shot Root, he got into his car, and a police chase ensued. The police chase lasted for three miles until Root crashed his car. The police then approached Root’s vehicle, and allegedly kicked him to the ground. At this point, his family alleges that he was already incapacitated and helpless as he suffered more gunshot wounds.
According to the lawsuit, law enforcement officers shouted commands at him before they opened fire again. Root’s family alleges that nobody at the scene attempted to assess the mental or physical condition of the victim or to even talk to him before opening fire. Had the police officers engaged in de-escalation, he might not have died. Allegedly, two officers shook hands with each other in a congratulatory manner after the shooting, with an officer saying to his supervisor that he “emptied [his] magazine on him.”
District Attorney: Officers Were Justified
The District Attorney has stated that the law enforcement officers involved in Root’s death were justified when they used deadly force against the man. They are contending that the officers shouted several commands for Root to put his hands up. According to police testimony, Root moved his hands inside his jacket, apparently to reach for a gun. It was only later that they discovered that he only had a fake pistol in his pocket, not a real gun. While no criminal charges have been brought against the police officers, the police department will be defending itself in a civil wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits Due to Police Misconduct
Georgia Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer has led to an increased awareness of police brutality and misconduct. As in the case of Root, family members of victims of police shootings may have a right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court against the police department that killed the victim.
Police officers swear an oath to protect and serve. When they fail to take reasonable precautions, victims can die. When officers act negligently, resulting in the death of a suspect or bystander, and cause an unjustified injury or death, the families of the deceased suspect can seek compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit.
Succeeding in a Wrongful Death by Police Lawsuit Is Difficult
Officers are frequently involved in extremely dangerous situations. They often need to make life-and-death decisions in a split-second. It is easy for law enforcement officers to claim that they saw a victim reach for a gun, even when the victim did not. When courts decide wrongful death lawsuits, they have to engage in the difficult job of deciding liability after things go wrong.
In civil lawsuits, plaintiffs have a burden of proof. They must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that certain elements took place. This is a less difficult standard of proof than in criminal cases, in which you must prove something beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, plaintiffs need to prove that it is more likely than not true that the following elements have been met:
- Duty: The police officers owed the deceased person a duty to use reasonable care.
- Breach: The defendant breached this duty by failing to act reasonably or prudent in their treatment of the deceased individual. In other words, the plaintiff must prove that the police officers acted negligently or recklessly.
- Causation: The police officers’ breach of duty caused the fatal actions that resulted in your loved one’s death. In a police shooting case, you’ll need to prove that the officer’s negligence resulted in the shooting that killed the decedent.
- Damages: The victim’s surviving family members need to prove that they have suffered damages. Typically, these damages include medical costs, burial expenses, lost future earnings, and compensation for the loss of companionship and care that happened because of the defendant’s actions.
The surviving family of a victim of a wrongful police shooting will need to prove the elements listed above by submitting evidence at court. When there is police body cam footage available, this footage can be extremely helpful. Additionally, if there was a crowd of people or other witnesses to the crime, there could also be additional footage from another angle. Your criminal defense lawyer will investigate photographs of the scene of the shooting, police reports, accident reports, expert testimony, the coroner’s report, medical records, and accident reconstruction.
Contact Our Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers
If your loved one has died as a result of police misconduct, your family may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. At the Law Office of John J. Sheehan, we have a proven track record of helping surviving family members obtain compensation through wrongful death lawsuits. Contact us as soon as possible to schedule your initial consultation.